James Ward has a penchant for making body swap films. You know the sort of thing. Well, he’s made a career out of exploring this genre, in everything from web series to feature films. This month, I’m talking to James about his latest feature, The Hit Girl.
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DLM: Let’s start off by having you introduce yourself, and tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your background.
JW: Hi there, my name’s James Ward and I’ve had a life long passion for watching movies. For decades I’ve talked with friends about various script ideas, but never followed through with any of our script ideas, but then in 2006 I stumbled upon YouTube and soon afterwords started making my own videos, which eventually lead to making my first feature length endeavor called IDENTITY THEFT (2009) and now my second feature THE HIT GIRL (2013).
DLM: Let’s go all the way back. What was the first film project you ever made? When did you make it and how did it turn out?
JW: My very first video I ever made was The Wand of Change way back in 2007. I’d bought a camera and borrowed a tripod, and made a very simple video about a guy who buys a magic wand so he can turn into someone else, so that he can go spy on his girlfriend at a party. The video really took off and soon people we leaving comments and requesting we make more videos. So we made it into a series with 5 episodes, and actually part 3 was in the top 10 most watched videos of the week (or maybe it was month) on YouTube at the time of its release.
DLM: What did you learn from that project that made your future films easier?
JW: I learned SO much! Camera movements, lighting, sound, scheduling, editing, even early advertising techniques. More importantly I learned there was an audience for my off the wall brand of comedy/drama.
DLM: In many of your films and shorts, you’ve used body switching as a theme. What appeals to you about this theme and what makes it work so well on the screen?
JW: That’s a good question. I really like body swapping as a plot device, as it can be used for either humor or drama, and it also sets up clear motivations for characters. One aspect that draws me to this theme is that I am fascinated by the concept of ‘Identity’ and what makes a person who they really are. For instance, how much of a person is composed of their inward mental componnets, such as their personailty, memories and beliefs, verses their outward physical componnets, such a their appearance, age, gender, body type, even social and economic standing. Having someone suddenly finding themselves as another person strips away all of the things that physically made them who they are, but leaves them mentally the same. They find themselves in a strange new world that is exactly the same it was before they “changed”, but now they are treated completely different. Friends and family don’t know them, somethings are harder for them, somethings maybe easier, and they must adapt to their new circumstances, which again can either be told as comedy, drama or horror.
DLM: Identity Theft was the first film of yours that I reviewed, and I thought Laura Weintraub did a fantastic job with the theme and acting like a guy in a girl’s body. How hard is it to find and cast people who really understand how to play that sort of thing in a natural and fun way? I would imagine you need to find people who really understand the opposite sex and their behaviors quite well.
JW: I’ve been very lucky with my casting and in finding people who can portray their characters. In Laura’s case, she’d told me she’s always been kind of a tomboy and identifies more with being one of the guys, than being a girly girl. But understanding the opposite sex is key.
DLM: Speaking of casting, how do you go about your casting in general? Do you hold casting calls or do you mostly just use people that you know and have worked with before?
JW: Part of my audition process is working with people on YouTube videos before I start my feature projects. If they work well and do a good job in those videos, then I think of them when I start to plan my feature films. So many of the key roles were filled with people I’ve worked with before, either in my videos or on other projects, but for some of the smaller roles I put out some notices and cast from online actor ‘reels”.
DLM: When it came to casting your latest film, The Hit Girl, tell us the specifics of what you were looking for in the characters and how you came to cast some of the main players in the film.
JW: For the role of Jessica/aka The Hit Girl, there were two key elements we were looking for, one being the ability to act the role of a grizziled 44 year old hit man who had been turned into a teenager, and second was the physicality to play the role. She not only had to be petite in stature to show the dramatic change from being the hit man, she also had to be able to pull off doing the action scenes that would be required. For Bill/aka The Hit Man, we were obviously looking for a bigger guy (once again to show the dramatic change when he is changed into Jessica), who could play a tough guy, but who was also funny and could portray the subtle emotional disconnect the character was feeling both internally and with his family. For Suzy the niece, we needed an actress who could not only play the comedic scenes, but who could also be vulnerable in some scenes, but completely in control of others, to show the character arc that Suzy experiences throughout the movie.
DLM: How long did production last from start to finish, and did you hit any major delays or snags along the way?
JW: Well, the original idea for THE HIT GIRL was conceived some 22 years ago back when I worked in a video store, and co-writer Robert Bruce and I would talk about it from time to time over the years, but the actual time from when we started the screenplay to when the movie was completely finished, took a little over a year and a half. Happily there weren’t any major snags along the way.
DLM: What about locations? Did you have any trouble securing locations, or shooting at them once you were there? I know bystanders can sometimes cause issues with noise, getting in the shots, etc….
JW: Once again we were very lucky in securing our locations. One problem that comes to mind occurred while we were filming inside the theatre during the ‘mean girls confrontation scene’. We were scheduled to film on a Thursday morning at 11AM, but when we got there, to my horror we found a construction crew across the street tearing down a build, which would have been bad enough, but at the exact same time down the street the city had also decided to do some tree trimming. We started setting up, hearing the sounds of jackhammers on one side and woodchippers on the other, which was a real sound nightmare! I was starting to think I was going to have to send everyone home when suddenly it all stopped. Both crews broke for lunch, so we started filming and got all the shots we needed. We were VERY lucky that day.
DLM: What gear did you use during production? (Camera, audio, etc…) Were you generally happy with what you used or are you planning any gear upgrades before your next production?
JW: We used a Canon 5D Mark iii for most of the video and a Tascam DR-100 for most of the audio, with a Tascam DR-40 set up as an emergency backup recorder. Luckily we had the back up (thank you Kickstarter), as one of the sound files we recorded on the DR-100 became corrupted and we had to use the sound from the back up DR-40. Money well spent! Overall I was very happy with the equipment we used and would use it again. Now that being said, we’re ALWAYS trying to improve on what we’ve done, so we’ll have to see what equipment is available when we’re ready to start our next production. If there’s something better, we’ll do our best to get it.
DLM: When it comes to editing your work, do you ever find yourself second guessing yourself about various things, such as what takes you should use or what scenes you should edit out all together, or do you pretty much know what you want from the get go and then just make it happen?
JW: When editing, I always try to find the best takes. Sometimes that means editing a scene together, seeing if it works, and if not, tearing it apart and starting all over. Luckily I don’t have to do that very often. Since I am both directing and editing, I know what I am going to need when I edit a scene together later, so I make certain to film everything I need while we’re filming and I can usually work it out in my head what it’s going to look like while we’re still filming it.
DLM: What’s been the general response to the film?
JW: The response so far has been very positive from those who have seen it. Now we just need to get more people to see it.
DLM: What about festivals? Are you sending The Hit Girl to any festivals?
JW: Yes, we’ve sent THE HIT GIRL off to a few festivals and we are looking into sending it to some more.
DLM: Tell everyone how they can see your various films and web series.
JW: THE HIT GIRL Website: www.TheHitGirlMovie.com
THE HIT GIRL Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/The-Hit-Girl/209493192527712
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/RdDrfjames
All Three Degrees OFF Center Products including THE HIT GIRL , Identity Theft and my other projects: www.threedegreesoffcenter.net
DLM: You’re self distributing your features. Did you look for a distrubution deal for them before deciding to do that, or was it always your plan to self distribute?
JW: I self distributed my first film Identity Theft, so we always had self distribution as one possible plan, but we did look into getting a distribution deal and there was some interest in THE HIT GIRL. I’ve heard too many horror storys about bad distribution deals, so I’m a little hesitant to jump on that bandwagon, so for now we are currently trying to build a fanbase, get as many reviews as possible and enter a number of film festivals. We’ll see how things go from there…
DLM: Do you think it’s worth it for film makers to even try for distribution nowadays, or is there potentially more money to be made in self distributing?
JW: You should always look at all your options, but also do your research. If going with traditional distribution is right for you, then you should go with it, but there are a lot of other alternatives available out there that are also worth exploring. And I think new alternatives to traditional distribution will continue to emerge in the future.
DLM: What about promotion? How do you go about promoting your films, and what have you found to be the most effective of the various ways you’ve used?
JW: The best way I’ve found for promoting my movies is putting up trailers on YouTube. It does help that I have a YouTube channel that receives a fair amount of traffic, so my trailers tend to be seen by a number of people. Also, I try to get the word out about my movie by having it reviewed by independent movie sites, such as Rogue Cinema.
DLM: What’s next on the agenda for you?
JW: I’m currently still trying to get the word out about THE HIT GIRL, but I’m starting to think about my next feature project. I have an associate who is working on a script, and have a couple of ideas of my own running around in my head, but at the moment I haven’t decided on what I’m doing next. We’ll see.
DLM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?
JW: Thank you to everyone out there that supports independent film making. Building awareness of of any project is key, so if your interested, please like THE HIT GIRL on Facebook, and feel free to tweet about the movie or mention in on other sites. Getting the word out about the film would be really helpful! And thank you Duane!